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Double Happys


A phenomenal band with an excruciatingly short discography, Double Happys were the reunion outfit of “working class little shits” and high school chums (both former Bored Games members) Shayne Carter and Wayne Elsey, along with their temperamental drum machine Herbie Fuckface.

The origins of Double Happys are fairly typical of Dunedin groups – After Bored Games got bored of their own games and broke up, Carter bounced around for a bit in several other short-lived groups. There was the terribly named Sparkling Whine (“a short-lived trio in 81 with my 14-year-old cousin and Jeff Harford”) and the more significant Cartilage Family – which was ground zero for a handful of Peter Gutteridge‘s classic tunes, plus a few lost gems from Carter himself. Meanwhile Elsey spent a productive couple years in brilliant, sardonic garage-indie-punk group The Stones – when that petered out in late 1983, getting back with Carter seemed a logical next step.

Carter, Elsey (and Herbie) were super-productive right from the outset – they played a bunch of Dunedin and Christchurch shows before roping in Terry Moore to capture their first recordings, released on the Every Secret Thing DIY cassette compilation ‘Songs from the Lowlands‘.

They toured regularly through the best part of 1984 and early 1985 – recruiting John Collie to take over on the kit when dealing with a faltering drum machine became too much. Collie was a mate of Elsey – he’d even hung around Bored Games practices at Elsey’s parents house in South Dunedin. The trio were straight into action as part of Flying Nun’s ‘Looney Tour’ showcase, alongside The Chills, The Expendables and Children’s Hour.

Come August 1984 the group were in Christchurch; following up a show at the Star and Garter with a video for ‘The Other’s Way’:

After spending the day wrapped in Gladwrap (and drinking heavily), inspiration struck in an unexpected place:

Pissed and morose, they sought consolation in fish ‘n chips, more beer and Zanzibar (Christchurch dance club), where they watch the dorkoes doing it to Frankie, then depart and write a song about it called ‘Needles and Plastic’.

Richard Langston – Garage Fanzine

Pretty soon they were committing the new song to tape; and released it through Flying Nun Records as the first track on the ‘Cut It Out’ E. It would prove to be their finest release and unfortunately their swansong – label-founder Roger Shephard detailed the production and release of the EP on his blog:

‘Needles and Plastic’ is a step up for Shayne Carter’s song writing. It has that persistent and relentless kind of drive that hypnotises and propels the listener all at the same time. John Collie’s drumming has become fully integrated into the band’s sound. The work on arrangements suggests increased maturity and ambition musically. The lack of bass meant that, generally, the guitar interplay had to be carefully considered and executed. ‘Needles and Plastic’ is the EP’s best song.

The Story of Double Happys’ 1985 EP ‘Cut It Out’ (Roger Shephard – ‘Man of the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown’ blog)

In June 1985 the boys headed for a rail trip North; mixing the EP in Hamilton, playing a couple shows in Auckland, then appearing on Radio with Pictures; but tragedy struck on the return journey:

Skylarking with Carter in the gap between trains as Collie watched, Elsey swung out on a rail at the wrong moment, striking a bridge abutment. “It was somewhere near Taumarunui, we weren’t drunk or stoned, Shayne and Wayne were being silly buggers. It was half past twelve at night and it was foggy,” Collie remembers. The police found Wayne Elsey’s body on the riverbank beneath the bridge at Manunui, four kilometres east of Taumarunui.

“As he fell he bumped back into his friend, pushing him back inside the train and probably saving his life,” Sergeant Michael Keaney told the New Zealand Herald. It was June 26, 1985 and Wayne Elsey was 22.

AudioCulture profile of Double Happys

With the Cut It Out EP still in the charts; Carter released the emotional tribute single ‘Randolph’s Going Home‘ with Peter Jefferies. Double Happy’s were no more; but Carter and Collie would go on to even greater fame with their next group – Straitjacket Fits.

Circa 2023 John Collie is a respected artist (he painted the brilliant cover of The Verlaines Bird-Dog’ LP) and photographer working for the Christchurch Art Gallery; whilst Shayne Carter continues his long history in music – he published his award-winning memoir / biography ‘Dead people I have known‘ in 2020 and toured as part of Don McGlashan’s band in 2022.




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